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Post-Modern Roleplaying: Rebooting D&D

Not 100% relevant to PC gaming, but 1) D&D's rules have been enormously influential on computer RPGs 2) whatever the new edition ends up doing will almost certainly filter down to a PC game or six at some point 3) your mum.

Wizards of the Coast are taking another pass at Dungeons & Dragons, after the recent fourth edition rules proved more than a little divisive. Divisive = MASSIVE RAGEFEST, of course. On top of that, WOTC reckon vidjagames are taking an increasingly deadly bite out of their side. So, they want to get D&D back on track - and they're actively looking for the community's input to do so. Is that you? Ooh, probably.

The New York Times, which is A Big And Important Newspaper, has the story such as it is. And the story, such as it is, is "oh god we've right royally screwed this up, what are we going to do? I know, let's ask the people who are still willing to pay for this what we should do." Which is possibly the right idea, with the exception that going primarily to the most in-the-know fans risks turning the game even more inwards, rather than increasing its appeal to those who, for one reason or another, avoid it. And, it seems, a lot of people are avoiding it:

"The company does not release sales figures, but analysts and gaming experts agree that sales of the game, and all tabletop role-playing ones, have been dwindling for years. Ryan Scott Dancey, chief executive of the game company Goblinworks and a former vice president at Wizards of the Coast, said the overall market peaked between 1999 and 2003 and has been in steady decline since 2005. “My instincts are it’s slower than ever,” he said."

It'd be awfully sad to see D&D become little more than a license for videogames and other media, given its vital place in pop-culture heritage and its ongoing influence on game developers. Now does seem like the right time to shoot for a major reboot.

The obvious thing, for me, is to accelerate the long-planned digital version. P&P RPGs are absolutely at their best with a group of folk sat around a table with an assortment of savoury snacks and liver-stressing beverages, but that's not always possible. I bubble with gentle envy when hearing reports of the Warhammer RPG sessions Kieron hosts for assorted chums-of-RPS in That London. Trains and time keeps me away, though I have am ambient pledge to set something up in Brighton one of these days. Perhaps a digital version of the game, in a loose form unbound from the restrictions of videogames so our imaginations could fire fully, could overcome issues of space and time. Additionally, having permanent online records of your characters and their adventures, instead of rotting, illegible notebooks, is an appealing thing, not to mention how useful more official online resources would be for DMs. And rulebooks surely have to move into the digital age, to Kindles and tablets and smartphones.

Perhaps men clustered around iPads and laptops rather than pens, paper and rulebooks is the future, retaining the traditional social element but bringing in the convenience of digital, or maybe it risks ripping out the game's scrappy soul. WOTC is committed to keeping D&D a face-to-face game, which probably is necessary to retain its essence and tradition, but if videogames are truly its nemesis the scale of the rethink needs to be immense.

I look forward to seeing what they come up with, I hope they don't take too long about it, I hope it's done with half a mind on how it can translate to videogames, and I hope the net result is not just another set of horribly expensive, fat books that I'd feel too self-conscious of to get out in public.

So, feedback is being sought, playtests are being planned and big things are apparently in the offing. This is as good a mission statement as any:

"We want to create a flexible game, rich with options for players and DMs to embrace or reject as they see fit, a game that brings D&D fans together rather than serves as one more category to splinter us apart."

More details on how to submit your thoughts for the fifth edition of D&D here.

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About the Author
Alec Meer avatar

Alec Meer


Ancient co-founder of RPS. Long gone. Now mostly writes for rather than about video games.